1. RFC 9165
Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)                        C. Bormann
Request for Comments: 9165                        Universit├Ąt Bremen TZI
Category: Standards Track                                  December 2021
ISSN: 2070-1721

 Additional Control Operators for the Concise Data Definition Language


   The Concise Data Definition Language (CDDL), standardized in RFC
   8610, provides "control operators" as its main language extension

   The present document defines a number of control operators that were
   not yet ready at the time RFC 8610 was completed: .plus, .cat, and
   .det for the construction of constants; .abnf/.abnfb for including
   ABNF (RFC 5234 and RFC 7405) in CDDL specifications; and .feature for
   indicating the use of a non-basic feature in an instance.

Status of This Memo

   This is an Internet Standards Track document.

   This document is a product of the Internet Engineering Task Force
   (IETF).  It represents the consensus of the IETF community.  It has
   received public review and has been approved for publication by the
   Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG).  Further information on
   Internet Standards is available in Section 2 of RFC 7841.

   Information about the current status of this document, any errata,
   and how to provide feedback on it may be obtained at

Copyright Notice

   Copyright (c) 2021 IETF Trust and the persons identified as the
   document authors.  All rights reserved.

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   in the Revised BSD License.

Table of Contents

   1.  Introduction
     1.1.  Terminology
   2.  Computed Literals
     2.1.  Numeric Addition
     2.2.  String Concatenation
     2.3.  String Concatenation with Dedenting
   3.  Embedded ABNF
   4.  Features
   5.  IANA Considerations
   6.  Security Considerations
   7.  References
     7.1.  Normative References
     7.2.  Informative References
   Author's Address

1.  Introduction

   The Concise Data Definition Language (CDDL), standardized in
   [RFC8610], provides "control operators" as its main language
   extension point (Section 3.8 of [RFC8610]).

   The present document defines a number of control operators that were
   not yet ready at the time [RFC8610] was completed:

      | Name     | Purpose                                          |
      | .plus    | Numeric addition                                 |
      | .cat     | String concatenation                             |
      | .det     | String concatenation, pre-dedenting              |
      | .abnf    | ABNF in CDDL (text strings)                      |
      | .abnfb   | ABNF in CDDL (byte strings)                      |
      | .feature | Indicates name of feature used (extension point) |

              Table 1: New Control Operators in this Document

1.1.  Terminology

   The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT",
   "OPTIONAL" in this document are to be interpreted as described in
   BCP 14 [RFC2119] [RFC8174] when, and only when, they appear in all
   capitals, as shown here.

   This specification uses terminology from [RFC8610].  In particular,
   with respect to control operators, "target" refers to the left-hand
   side operand and "controller" to the right-hand side operand.  "Tool"
   refers to tools along the lines of that described in Appendix F of
   [RFC8610].  Note also that the data model underlying CDDL provides
   for text strings as well as byte strings as two separate types, which
   are then collectively referred to as "strings".

   The term "ABNF" in this specification stands for the combination of
   [RFC5234] and [RFC7405]; i.e., the ABNF control operators defined by
   this document allow use of the case-sensitive extensions defined in

2.  Computed Literals

   CDDL as defined in [RFC8610] does not have any mechanisms to compute
   literals.  To cover a large part of the use cases, this specification
   adds three control operators: .plus for numeric addition, .cat for
   string concatenation, and .det for string concatenation with
   dedenting of both sides (target and controller).

   For these operators, as with all control operators, targets and
   controllers are types.  The resulting type is therefore formally a
   function of the elements of the cross-product of the two types.  Not
   all tools may be able to work with non-unique targets or controllers.

2.1.  Numeric Addition

   In many cases, numbers are needed relative to a base number in a
   specification.  The .plus control identifies a number that is
   constructed by adding the numeric values of the target and the

   The target and controller both MUST be numeric.  If the target is a
   floating point number and the controller an integer number, or vice
   versa, the sum is converted into the type of the target; converting
   from a floating point number to an integer selects its floor (the
   largest integer less than or equal to the floating point number,
   i.e., rounding towards negative infinity).

   interval<BASE> = (
     BASE => int             ; lower bound
     (BASE .plus 1) => int   ; upper bound
     ? (BASE .plus 2) => int ; tolerance

   X = 0
   Y = 3
   rect = {

              Figure 1: An Example of Addition to a Base Value

   The example in Figure 1 contains the generic definition of a CDDL
   group interval that gives a lower and upper bound and, optionally, a
   tolerance.  The parameter BASE allows the non-conflicting use of a
   multiple of these interval groups in one map by assigning different
   labels to the entries of the interval.  The rule rect combines two of
   these interval groups into a map, one group for the X dimension
   (using 0, 1, and 2 as labels) and one for the Y dimension (using 3,
   4, and 5 as labels).

2.2.  String Concatenation

   It is often useful to be able to compose string literals out of
   component literals defined in different places in the specification.

   The .cat control identifies a string that is built from a
   concatenation of the target and the controller.  The target and
   controller both MUST be strings.  The result of the operation has the
   same type as the target.  The concatenation is performed on the bytes
   in both strings.  If the target is a text string, the result of that
   concatenation MUST be valid UTF-8.

   c = "foo" .cat '
   ; on a system where the newline is \n, is the same string as:
   b = "foo\n  bar\n  baz\n"

       Figure 2: An Example of Concatenation of Text and Byte Strings

   The example in Figure 2 builds a text string named c from
   concatenating the target text string "foo" and the controller byte
   string entered in a text form byte string literal.  (This particular
   idiom is useful when the text string contains newlines, which, as
   shown in the example for b, may be harder to read when entered in the
   format that the pure CDDL text string notation inherits from JSON.)

2.3.  String Concatenation with Dedenting

   Multi-line string literals for various applications, including
   embedded ABNF (Section 3), need to be set flush left, at least
   partially.  Often, having some indentation in the source code for the
   literal can promote readability, as in Figure 3.

   oid = bytes .abnfb ("oid" .det cbor-tags-oid)
   roid = bytes .abnfb ("roid" .det cbor-tags-oid)

   cbor-tags-oid = '
     oid = 1*arc
     roid = *arc
     arc = [nlsb] %x00-7f
     nlsb = %x81-ff *%x80-ff

              Figure 3: An Example of Dedenting Concatenation

   The control operator .det works like .cat, except that both arguments
   (target and controller) are independently _dedented_ before the
   concatenation takes place.

   For the first rule in Figure 3, the result is equivalent to Figure 4.

   oid = bytes .abnfb 'oid
   oid = 1*arc
   roid = *arc
   arc = [nlsb] %x00-7f
   nlsb = %x81-ff *%x80-ff

             Figure 4: Dedenting Example: Result of First .det

   For the purposes of this specification, we define "dedenting" as:

   1.  determining the smallest amount of leftmost blank space (number
       of leading space characters) present in all the non-blank lines,

   2.  removing exactly that number of leading space characters from
       each line.  For blank (blank space only or empty) lines, there
       may be fewer (or no) leading space characters than this amount,
       in which case all leading space is removed.

   (The name .det is a shortcut for "dedenting cat".  The maybe more
   obvious name .dedcat has not been chosen as it is longer and may
   invoke unpleasant images.)

   Occasionally, dedenting of only a single item is needed.  This can be
   achieved by using this operator with an empty string, e.g., "" .det
   rhs or lhs .det "", which can in turn be combined with a .cat: in the
   construct lhs .cat ("" .det rhs), only rhs is dedented.

3.  Embedded ABNF

   Many IETF protocols define allowable values for their text strings in
   ABNF [RFC5234] [RFC7405].  It is often desirable to define a text
   string type in CDDL by employing existing ABNF embedded into the CDDL
   specification.  Without specific ABNF support in CDDL, that ABNF
   would usually need to be translated into a regular expression (if
   that is even possible).

   ABNF is added to CDDL in the same way that regular expressions were
   added: by defining a .abnf control operator.  The target is usually
   text or some restriction on it, and the controller is the text of an
   ABNF specification.

   There are several small issues; the solutions are given here:

   *  ABNF can be used to define byte sequences as well as UTF-8 text
      strings interpreted as Unicode scalar sequences.  This means this
      specification defines two control operators: .abnfb for ABNF
      denoting byte sequences and .abnf for denoting sequences of
      Unicode scalar values (code points) represented as UTF-8 text
      strings.  Both control operators can be applied to targets of
      either string type; the ABNF is applied to the sequence of bytes
      in the string and interprets it as a sequence of bytes (.abnfb) or
      as a sequence of code points represented as an UTF-8 text string
      (.abnf).  The controller string MUST be a string.  When a byte
      string, it MUST be valid UTF-8 and is interpreted as the text
      string that has the same sequence of bytes.

   *  ABNF defines a list of rules, not a single expression (called
      "elements" in [RFC5234]).  This is resolved by requiring the
      controller string to be one valid "element", followed by zero or
      more valid "rules" separated from the element by a newline; thus,
      the controller string can be built by preceding a piece of valid
      ABNF by an "element" that selects from that ABNF and a newline.

   *  For the same reason, ABNF requires newlines; specifying newlines
      in CDDL text strings is tedious (and leads to essentially
      unreadable ABNF).  The workaround employs the .cat operator
      introduced in Section 2.2 and the syntax for text in byte strings.
      As is customary for ABNF, the syntax of ABNF itself (_not_ the
      syntax expressed in ABNF!) is relaxed to allow a single line feed
      as a newline:

      CRLF = %x0A / %x0D.0A

   *  One set of rules provided in an ABNF specification is often used
      in multiple positions, particularly staples such as DIGIT and
      ALPHA.  (Note that all rules referenced need to be defined in each
      ABNF operator controller string -- there is no implicit import of
      core ABNF rules from [RFC5234] or other rules.)  The composition
      this calls for can be provided by the .cat operator and/or by .det
      if there is indentation to be disposed of.

   These points are combined into an example in Figure 5, which uses
   ABNF from [RFC3339] to specify one of each of the Concise Binary
   Object Representation (CBOR) tags defined in [RFC8943] and [RFC8949].

   ; for RFC 8943
   Tag1004 = #6.1004(text .abnf full-date)
   ; for RFC 8949
   Tag0 = #6.0(text .abnf date-time)

   full-date = "full-date" .cat rfc3339
   date-time = "date-time" .cat rfc3339

   ; Note the trick of idiomatically starting with a newline, separating
   ;   off the element in the concatenations above from the rule-list
   rfc3339 = '
      date-fullyear   = 4DIGIT
      date-month      = 2DIGIT  ; 01-12
      date-mday       = 2DIGIT  ; 01-28, 01-29, 01-30, 01-31 based on
                                ; month/year
      time-hour       = 2DIGIT  ; 00-23
      time-minute     = 2DIGIT  ; 00-59
      time-second     = 2DIGIT  ; 00-58, 00-59, 00-60 based on leap sec
                                ; rules
      time-secfrac    = "." 1*DIGIT
      time-numoffset  = ("+" / "-") time-hour ":" time-minute
      time-offset     = "Z" / time-numoffset

      partial-time    = time-hour ":" time-minute ":" time-second
      full-date       = date-fullyear "-" date-month "-" date-mday
      full-time       = partial-time time-offset

      date-time       = full-date "T" full-time
   ' .det rfc5234-core

   rfc5234-core = '
      DIGIT          =  %x30-39 ; 0-9
      ; abbreviated here

     Figure 5: An Example of Employing ABNF from RFC 3339 for Defining
                                 CBOR Tags

4.  Features

   Commonly, the kind of validation enabled by languages such as CDDL
   provides a Boolean result: valid or invalid.

   In rapidly evolving environments, this is too simplistic.  The data
   models described by a CDDL specification may continually be enhanced
   by additional features, and it would be useful even for a
   specification that does not yet describe a specific future feature to
   identify the extension point the feature can use and accept such
   extensions while marking them as extensions.

   The .feature control annotates the target as making use of the
   feature named by the controller.  The latter will usually be a
   string.  A tool that validates an instance against that specification
   may mark the instance as using a feature that is annotated by the

   More specifically, the tool's diagnostic output might contain the
   controller (right-hand side) as a feature name and the target (left-
   hand side) as a feature detail.  However, in some cases, the target
   has too much detail, and the specification might want to hint to the
   tool that more limited detail is appropriate.  In this case, the
   controller should be an array, with the first element being the
   feature name (that would otherwise be the entire controller) and the
   second element being the detail (usually another string), as
   illustrated in Figure 6.

   foo = {
     kind: bar / baz .feature (["foo-extensions", "bazify"])
   bar = ...
   baz = ... ; complex stuff that doesn't all need to be in the detail

             Figure 6: Providing Explicit Detail with .feature

   Figure 7 shows what could be the definition of a person, with
   potential extensions beyond name and organization being marked
   further-person-extension.  Extensions that are known at the time this
   definition is written can be collected into $$person-extensions.
   However, future extensions would be deemed invalid unless the
   wildcard at the end of the map is added.  These extensions could then
   be specifically examined by a user or a tool that makes use of the
   validation result; the label (map key) actually used makes a fine
   feature detail for the tool's diagnostic output.

   Leaving out the entire extension point would mean that instances that
   make use of an extension would be marked as wholesale invalid, making
   the entire validation approach much less useful.  Leaving the
   extension point in but not marking its use as special would render
   mistakes (such as using the label "organisation" instead of
   "organization") invisible.

   person = {
     ? name: text
     ? organization: text
     * (text .feature "further-person-extension") => any

   $$person-extensions //= (? bloodgroup: text)

                 Figure 7: Map Extensibility with .feature

   Figure 8 shows another example where .feature provides for type

   allowed-types = number / text / bool / null
                 / [* number] / [* text] / [* bool]
                 / (any .feature "allowed-type-extension")

                 Figure 8: Type Extensibility with .feature

   A CDDL tool may simply report the set of features being used; the
   control then only provides information to the process requesting the
   validation.  One could also imagine a tool that takes arguments,
   allowing the tool to accept certain features and reject others
   (enable/disable).  The latter approach could, for instance, be used
   for a JSON/CBOR switch, as illustrated in Figure 9, using Sensor
   Measurement Lists (SenML) [RFC8428] as the example data model used
   with both JSON and CBOR.

   SenML-Record = {
   ; ...
     ? v => number
   ; ...
   v = JC<"v", 2>
   JC<J,C> = J .feature "json" / C .feature "cbor"

                Figure 9: Describing Variants with .feature

   It remains to be seen if the enable/disable approach can lead to new
   idioms of using CDDL.  The language currently has no way to enforce
   mutually exclusive use of features, as would be needed in this

5.  IANA Considerations

   IANA has registered the contents of Table 2 into the "CDDL Control
   Operators" registry of [IANA.cddl]:

                          | Name     | Reference |
                          | .plus    | RFC 9165  |
                          | .cat     | RFC 9165  |
                          | .det     | RFC 9165  |
                          | .abnf    | RFC 9165  |
                          | .abnfb   | RFC 9165  |
                          | .feature | RFC 9165  |

                            Table 2: New Control

6.  Security Considerations

   The security considerations of [RFC8610] apply.

   While both [RFC5234] and [RFC7405] state that security is truly
   believed to be irrelevant to the respective document, the use of
   formal description techniques cannot only simplify but sometimes also
   complicate a specification.  This can lead to security problems in
   implementations and in the specification itself.  As with CDDL
   itself, ABNF should be judiciously applied, and overly complex (or
   "cute") constructions should be avoided.

7.  References

7.1.  Normative References

              IANA, "Concise Data Definition Language (CDDL)",

   [RFC2119]  Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate
              Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC2119, March 1997,

   [RFC5234]  Crocker, D., Ed. and P. Overell, "Augmented BNF for Syntax
              Specifications: ABNF", STD 68, RFC 5234,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC5234, January 2008,

   [RFC7405]  Kyzivat, P., "Case-Sensitive String Support in ABNF",
              RFC 7405, DOI 10.17487/RFC7405, December 2014,

   [RFC8174]  Leiba, B., "Ambiguity of Uppercase vs Lowercase in RFC
              2119 Key Words", BCP 14, RFC 8174, DOI 10.17487/RFC8174,
              May 2017, <https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc8174>.

   [RFC8610]  Birkholz, H., Vigano, C., and C. Bormann, "Concise Data
              Definition Language (CDDL): A Notational Convention to
              Express Concise Binary Object Representation (CBOR) and
              JSON Data Structures", RFC 8610, DOI 10.17487/RFC8610,
              June 2019, <https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc8610>.

7.2.  Informative References

   [RFC3339]  Klyne, G. and C. Newman, "Date and Time on the Internet:
              Timestamps", RFC 3339, DOI 10.17487/RFC3339, July 2002,

   [RFC8428]  Jennings, C., Shelby, Z., Arkko, J., Keranen, A., and C.
              Bormann, "Sensor Measurement Lists (SenML)", RFC 8428,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC8428, August 2018,

   [RFC8943]  Jones, M., Nadalin, A., and J. Richter, "Concise Binary
              Object Representation (CBOR) Tags for Date", RFC 8943,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC8943, November 2020,

   [RFC8949]  Bormann, C. and P. Hoffman, "Concise Binary Object
              Representation (CBOR)", STD 94, RFC 8949,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC8949, December 2020,


   Jim Schaad suggested several improvements.  The .feature feature was
   developed out of a discussion with Henk Birkholz.  Paul Kyzivat
   helped isolate the need for .det.

   .det is an abbreviation for "dedenting cat", but Det is also the name
   of a German TV cartoon character created in the 1960s.

Author's Address

   Carsten Bormann
   Universit├Ąt Bremen TZI
   Postfach 330440
   D-28359 Bremen

   Phone: +49-421-218-63921
   Email: cabo@tzi.org
  1. RFC 9165